The HR Conference season is underway! And you’ve selected the 2013 SHRM Annual Conference, maybe the HR Tech Conference or another HR conference to attend — or that you’ve approved members of your HR staff to attend.
Once you’ve paid the conference registration fee, airfare, hotel, meals and other costs, you could be spending more than $3,000!
So how do you ensure more than $3,000 worth of impact to your business to justify the expense?
Let’s take a look.
Get your recertification credits
If you’ve achieved certification through the HR Certification Institute, ASTD, World at Work, HCI or any of a number of other relevant certification organizations, make sure you claim credit for the credit-approved sessions you attend — and make sure to attend several that qualify. Recertification credits will drive positive conference ROI for you professionally.
Do your research — talk to HR vendors
Most HR conferences have vendor/supplier expo halls. While huge expos like SHRM or the HR Technology Conference may not be conducive to substantive discussions with suppliers or potential vendors, don’t let that deter you from making the most of their presence at the conference. Don’t be that HR pro who goes to the expo just for the swag. There aren’t enough squeezy globes, hand sanitizer bottles, cheap pens or chocolate to give you a positive ROI.
Rather, use the expo to get really smart about where your business spends its HR supplier dollars. Identify two or three categories of current spend and then check the expo directory to identify which vendors in those categories are exhibiting and go visit all of them.
Find out what they believe their differentiators are. Discuss their new offerings (many vendors unveil new product versions, upgrades and other innovations at SHRM or HR Tech) and ask questions about implementation, user experience and prices.
Get smart on how to spend your HR supplier dollars more effectively. There could be huge ROI in these discussions.
Attend a mix of sessions
HR conferences generally have 3 kinds of content sessions: general sessions, concurrent sessions and sponsor highlights. From an ROI perspective, it’s helpful to select the sessions you want to attend in advance. And it’s also important not to over-schedule yourself so that you can have time to network and meet other HR pros (see point 4 below).
General Sessions — These are sessions that are intended for the full complement of attendees and exhibitors. They’re usually big names who speak on universal topics tangentially relevant to the conference theme — or they’re really big celebrities who have nothing to do with the conference content but are engaged to sell tickets. Big names sell tickets. Just think of them as the entertainment.
Concurrent Sessions— These are the meat and potatoes of the conference content and are scheduled throughout the conference agenda. They’re called “concurrent” because there are multiple sessions scheduled at the same time.
At a conference the size of SHRM’s annual conference, there may be as many as 20 sessions to choose from in one time block. These are designed for smaller subsets of conference attendees, generally are qualified for recertification credit, and tend to be led by consultants, authors and academics.
You can choose a content “track” and attend all the sessions that focus on global HR practices, safe legislative/regulatory practices, best practice in employee engagement, or effective use of social technology in recruiting. Or you can mix it up and sample sessions from each of the content tracks.
However you approach attending these sessions, identify the sessions you want to attend and the speakers you want to hear before you arrive. The sessions will have greater impact if you’re attending them intentionally rather than if you choose sessions haphazardly — especially if the topics are relevant to current challenges in your organization.
Trish McFarlane wrote a great post last year on the 10 Conference Commandments you should follow. Definitely worth a read.
Sponsor Highlights — some conference organizers allow sessions that feature a sponsor or exhibitor’s product or service that are marketing-focused rather than content-focused as part of their sponsorship/exhibitor fee. Don’t dismiss these. You can get great information about what’s new and cutting edge as well as scope out potential new partners.
Network with other HR professionals
One of the particular values of attending a conference in person (as opposed to an online conference or a series of webinars) is the opportunity to meet other professionals tackling the same issues you are. Or other professionals who have tackled and overcome the same issues you are facing. Before you head to the conference, look at the lists of attendees and sponsors/exhibitors.
Use social media to find out who else is attending. Do a little research on LinkedIn (in addition to searching by name, join the LinkedIn groups set up for the conference attendees).
Then target 4-8 people that you’d really like to meet and talk with — and then connect with them on LinkedIn, find them at the conference, and offer to buy them a cup of coffee.
Leaving time in your session schedule to set short appointments when you find people on your target list will allow you to be thoughtful in creating new professional relationships that will help you and your organization. Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn from industry pros — who, by the way, also want to network and meet people just like you!
Engage with conference participants on social media
If you aren’t on Twitter, LinkedIn or FaceBook, now would be a good time to start accounts. Many of the people you want to meet are using social media to connect with new and old professional contacts. None of these social networking sites are difficult to use and all are being leveraged by conference organizers and conference sponsors/exhibitors and conference attendees to connect, learn and share information.
For example, one HR blogger I know collects the information for all of the vendor-hosted parties at the major HR conferences and texts links to the information for those who follow her on Twitter. It’s a practical way to get invited to parties you wouldn’t otherwise know about. There’s good ROI in that!
Tip: If you’re attending the SHRM 2013 conference follow the #SHRM13 hashtag on Twitter to engage fellow attendees, speakers and vendors in advance of the conference.
Get yourself organized
Attending an HR conference and coming away with real ROI requires both art and science, but it isn’t difficult. It means advance preparation to identify supplier opportunities, learning outcomes, and people you want to meet. It also means being open to serendipitous opportunities that come your way.
HR conference attendance can’t be about wild times away from the office (unless it’s being entirely self-funded), swag runs and room service any more. The pressure for ROI on every HR dollar spent is increasing. And it applies to conference attendance now more than ever. The good news is that it isn’t hard to generate ROI at an HR conference – if you are thoughtful and plan ahead.
Will I see you at an HR conference this year? I’ll be attending the 2013 SHRM Annual Conference in Chicago – hope to see you there.
Oh and I know my friends at Halogen would be happy to have you stop by the Halogen booth #941 during exhibit hours. They’ve got an interactive HR gameshow on the booth to test your knowledge and win some great prizes, and of course you can chat with them about your talent management needs.
One last thing: If one of your goals in attending an HR conference this year is to evaluate talent management vendors, you may be interested in reading this white paper on making cloud-based talent management a reality in your organization.
About China Gorman
For more than 25 years, China has held strategic business leadership roles in human resources professional services organizations. Currently CEO of the CMG Group, China is a sought-after speaker, writer and thought leader in the broad human resources marketplace. Connect with China on her website at http://chinagorman.com or on Twitter @chinagorman.